Lions' resilience the perfect selling point for program
Success in coaching college football, for better or worse, often is as much about marketing as play calling, schemes and managing players.
Penn State's Bill O'Brien had about as comprehensive an infomercial for his program Saturday night as he could have hoped for at Beaver Stadium.
With several of the estimated 100 recruits who attended the Nittany Lions' 43-40, four-overtime win against Michigan watching from a balcony in the news conference room as he addressed the media afterward, O'Brien took advantage of the opportunity to sell his program.
“If you come to Penn State,” O'Brien said, “you have a chance to play in front of 108,000 fans, you're going to be on TV every week, and you're going to get a fantastic education. We have 150 different majors to choose from here, so you graduate from here, playing football, with a degree from Penn State. It's really an unbeatable combination.
“Hopefully things worked out tonight in that realm, too.”
Time will tell whether the thrilling win over a big-name, undefeated team before a capacity “whiteout” crowd of almost 108,000 with millions more watching on ESPN will buoy Penn State's recruiting. Things certainly worked out on the field for the Lions (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) against the No. 18 Wolverines (5-1, 1-1).
Penn State rallied — it trailed by 10 points with 6 minutes, 35 seconds remaining and by a touchdown with 50 seconds left — to force overtime. The Lions overcame four turnovers and in the overtimes survived a missed field goal and a fumble.
It proved the perfect backdrop for O'Brien to push one of his favorite buzzwords in discussing his program.
“These guys are resilient guys,” O'Brien said while dropping a derivative of the “R” word no fewer than eight times during his postgame news conference.
“This (win) just says a lot about our kids, a very resilient bunch of kids that care about each other and really love playing for Penn State.”
The athletic department has marketed the Lions through concise slogans such as “One Team” and “Next Level.”
In a sign of the times, signage at Penn State sporting events in recent seasons often has carried a hashtag such as #oneteam and #nextlevel.If O'Brien were in charge, he perhaps would prefer #resiliency.
O'Brien repeats the resiliency/resilient mantra ad nauseam after wins and losses, during postgame and mid-week pressers, at his weekly radio show and — it's obvious by the way many players parrot it — in the locker room to his players.
But these Lions don't dismiss it as a hokey catchphrase. They play the part.
They've been resilient in not letting the NCAA sanctions crush the program. Resilient from week to week in avoiding negative momentum from the school's first-ever loss to Indiana on Oct. 5 to carry over into the following game. Resilient within a game in coming back from near-certain defeat at multiple points Saturday.
“We are resilient,” cornerback Jordan Lucas said. “There were times where we were up, and there were times where we were down. We did not let that get to us. We kept on playing.”
“Everything we work for and just the team getting a win like this — four overtimes?” defensive end Anthony Zettel said. “I don't think you could ever get a win better than this.”
Particularly when it comes to selling the program.
Note: Hackenberg was named Athlon Sports' national freshman of the week.